Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review: Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

Where She Went is a sequel and this review will contain spoilers for the first book, If I Stay.

It's three years after Mia's accident, shortly after which Mia left Adam behind and moved on to life as a virtuoso violinist at Juillard. Adam has become a celebrity - a rock star with an actress girlfriend. But he is far from happy, suffering from anxiety and having fallen out with his bandmates.

Then Adam has one night to himself in New York City before he goes on tour, and almost by chance, he goes to see Mia perform. She invites him backstage and as they both have one last night in the city before they go to separate corners of the world, they decide to spend it together. But they can't avoid discussing the painful past.

There were definitely things I liked about Where She Went. I was interested to find out how Mia coped with life after the accident, and how Adam failed to cope. I thought that Where She Went was a good exploration of the ways that people deal with traumatic events and build their futures afterwards. I loved Mia as a character because she seems so real. She's kind and loving but she's not a pushover or a doormat - she's really strong and she takes care of herself first. I think in that way she's a role model for all of us. I felt so sad for Adam, but hopeful that he could turn things around. I was rooting for them to work out where they had gone wrong, and to heal themselves and each other. There is a really strong emotional journey that the characters - particularly Adam - go through, and as a reader I was taken along for the ride, starting off depressed by the way Adam has changed and going through his following emotional ups and downs with him. I also liked the way that music tied everything together - music was also a pivotal part of If I Stay and one of my favourite things about it.


I have this issue with books and paranormal activities. I can read fantasy novels, urban fantasy, paranormal, magical realism, etc, no problem. But when a book with some ambigious paranormal activity (I'll call it 'magic' from here on out) suddenly becomes unambigious, it can fall flat for me. If something's happening and we don't know if it's magic or if someone's imagining it, I don't mind the suspense. If it becomes clear that it is supposed to be magic and there's a proper explanation after that point, that's fine. If there's no explanation, if we're just supposed to accept the existence of this magic - then I become uncomfortable and usually dislike the rest of the book.

It's really hard to explain this without spoilers. But basically, I think that although I had no problem suspending my disbelief when reading If I Stay, where the whole conceit of the novel is that Mia's disembodied spirit is watching her family and friends' reactions to the accident, when that idea got taken outside of that one novel and introduced to the 'real world' in Where She Went, I had problems suspending my disbelief.

Also, although I liked the idea of it all happening over just 24 hours, in practice I wasn't sure all those revelations and decisions were realistic. I think that in reality people separated like Mia and Adam would need to take more time to rebuild their connection than they do.

After I finished and adored If I Stay, I couldn't wait to read the sequel. I don't think I could have stopped and never read Where She Went. I wanted more. Yet it turned out that I didn't need more. It's not that I disliked Where She Went, I just think that it was was unnecessary for me. Not unnecessary full stop by any means, just unnecessary for me. It was, as I said above, interesting to read, but I didn't believe it the same way I believed If I Stay.

Maybe it's merely a clash of personality and book. Plenty of other readers have loved Where She Went, and odds are you will too. I am still looking forward to reading Gayle Forman's previous and future books. But if your reader's mind works like mine - you're not alone.

Two reviews that I read prior to Where She Went:
Fluttering Butterflies (with author interview)
So Many Books, So Little Time

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